Column - Commentary
Collecting was definitely in the cards!By DAVE KIFFER
September 13, 2022
That was an interesting question.
It's not like she takes much interest in baseball cards, except of course when I go through one of my little splurges and some suspiciously small packages arrive in the mail. Then she wonders just how much I have spent yet again and just what is in that little shoe box where I keep the best of the best of my collection.
Overall, I have more than 10,000 baseball cards, but, natch, most of them aren't worth squat. Most came into my possession between 1967 and 1975ish. Back when I was an adolescent with way too much disposal income and very limited interests beyond baseball cards. But more on that later.
Of course, what sparked Char's interest was a story out of New York City in which a collector had just sold a 1952 Mantle card for $12.5 million. Roughly double what the previous high - for a legendary 1906 Honus Wagner - for a baseball card had been. Do I have a 1952 Mantle card in my collection?
No, I would be sitting on a desert island that I owned if I did.
But all Mantle cards are worth a lot these days and I have some Mantle cards in my collection. And some of them just went up in value. But not all. And therein lies a sad, yet familiar, tale. If you want your baseball cards to be really worth something in the future, don't open the pack!!!
But if you do (and who doesn't, otherwise you wouldn't know if you had a Mickey Mantle card or a Mickey Moniak one) then at least - for gosh sakes - take really, really, really good care of them.
I didn't. But we'll get to that in a bit.
I first started collecting baseball cards in 1967. I first noticed them when I visited my relatives in Seattle that summer. There very well may have been baseball cards around Ktown prior to that but I hadn't noticed them. At any rate, my no-disposable-income-eight-year-old self would not have had the means to been acquiring them anyway. But 1968 was the first year I began getting what amounted to a "salary" from the summer-long, 12-hour days that I worked on the family fishing boat.
As it was, one of my uncles (either Vern or Milt) bought me a pack in 1967 in Seattle and I was hooked, and not by the stale slab of gum. There wasn't enough water in all of Lake Washington - which spread out, shimmering, before my cousin's place in Rainier Beach - to soften those things enough to make them chewable).
But I digress
So, I then badgered my mom to get me some more and, since they were like 25 cents for a pack of 10 back then, she did and i was off and running. I still have some of them including the Paul Lindblad 1967 Kansas City Athletics Card that is, maybe, worth $5 today. It was the first card in that first pack. I remember.
Anyway, in 1968 I started getting "paid" for being my father's boat puller on the "Gony"" the old black double ender he had owned since World War II or so.
That's what the old timers called the kid who worked with them on the trollers, the boat puller. Not sure why. I didn't do much boat pulling. I was barely big enough to a pull a skiff.
But I digress, again.
Being a "boatpuller" meant basically I did everything my father didn't wish to do. I cooked breakfast in the morning, I pulled lines, landed fish (not the real big ones) I cleaned fish (even the real big ones), I steered the boat when Dad took his afternoon naps, I cleaned the pen boards at least twice a day, I tossed the fish into the hold when float planes would pass by (didn't want anyone to think we were actually catching fish). I sat calmly in the cockpit when other trollers passed by, even if all four lines were jiggling with "fish on." (didn't want anyone else to know we were catching fish) and then I rushed to ice all the fish in the hold before it was time to "raft up" with Dad's friends in the harbor (really didn't want anyone else to know how many fish we had caught).
Funny how so much time was spent in those days pretending to have not caught any fish.
At any rate, I can't remember how much money I made in 1968. Probably not a lot.But then an eight or nine year old doesn't need that much. Or didn't in those days.
Later I would get up to 10 percent of the gross proceeds as my share. I was one of the most financially comfortable 13-year-olds in Ketchikan by that time, although my tastes had also gotten more "comfortable" than baseball cards. I had a hankering for stereos and motorycles. At the end of one summer, I remember my Dad handing me $1,800 in twenty-dollar bills, which I quickly deposited in the bank. That would be well north of $12,000 today.
I sure didn't make that much in 1968, but I was certainly comfortable enough to begin buying baseball cards 10 packs at time. In Ketchikan at that point it was 50 cents a pack, so I could get 10 packs (100 cards) for little more than $5. And 10 sticks of that mummified gum.
For the next several years, I loaded up on baseball cards but when I got to high school, I found other things to spend my money on (musical instruments, records and......the opposite sex). So, I didn't do much collecting for the next decade or so.
It wasn't until my second run in college, in the 1980s, that I began frequenting a used card shop in Boston and began collecting again.
It was not with the same wild abandon as in my earlier years. I still occasionally bought the fresh pack in a store for the thrill of getting a surprise treasurer like George Brett or a Wade Boggs but it was generally more targeted, such as earlier cards like Christy Mathewson or John McGraw or later heroes like Ted Williams or Jackie Robinson, or collecting cards from all 12 seasons of Sandy Koufax.
Then, the next decade, the internet became a thing and my targeted collecting jumped up a notch. I could go online and find oddities such Fred Merkle, Ralph Branca or Chick Gandal, or less famous Hall of Famers, who's cards would always be able to fetch at least $15-$20 in the open market, no matter what point my descendants choose to sell them.
Still, in retrospect my period of peak collecting back in the late 1960s and early 1970s was one of the more fruitful points for all-time greats. It was truly a time when giants walked the earth - or the diamonds as the case may have been. Mays, Aaron, Banks, Robinson, Gibson, Rose, Clemente et al. I read recently that in 1968 the highest percentage of Hall of Famers were on the field since some point in the early 1930s. And, 1968 was Mickey Mantle's last year so I naturally ended up with a few cards from his final season.
Now, even a 1968 Mickey Mantle card has a value. Somewhere around $1,000 depending on the shape it is in. But my cards from those days aren't particularly pristine because I took them out and played with them. I made up games. I bent down the corners. I even allowed them to get wet, like the time that my Dad's second boat, the Jeanette, sank in Kaigani Harbor (another story for another day) and to this day, I can still see a bunch of cards floating on the rising water in the fo-c-sle (I grabbed them before I went up on deck to abandon ship. Priorities).
At least I didn't put baseball cards on the spokes of my bicycle like some kids did back in the day. One of friends still has the remains several once valuable Ted Williams cards of mid 1950s vintage that he keeps as a reminder of when he pedaled away hundreds of dollars.
One of my three 1968 Mantle cards is still in pretty decent shape and could fetch up to $1,000 in the right circumstance. But the other two....not so much.
You see, even though I recognized he was an all-time great, I was - and still am today - a Dodger fan and I hated the Yankees. So, at some point, I took a pencil and wrote "loser" in big letters over his face on two of the 1968 cards. Thereby decreasing their eventual value from somewhere north of $1,000 each to zero.
Who's the loser now, eh Mick?
At any rate, I have a lot of cards, and I didn't ruin every one of them so I will probably still be leaving a significant baseball card windfall to my son much in the same way that my wife's grandfather left her a significant coin collection that eventually allowed her to purchase a certain local bookstore a decade or so ago.
And when I think of how much money certain members of my family lost playing "cards" over the decades, I think I did much better by "holding" the ones I had, even if some of them got "folded" over the years.
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Contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Kiffer is a freelance
writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.